Asian Telecom Operator Disrupts Market, Driving Digital Transformation throughout the Nation

Fast Growing Telecom Operator Runs OpenStack at Massive Scale

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Take-Aways

Scaling requires Automation – Deploying cloud infrastructure at massive scale necessitates automated CI/CD pipelines that can efficiently provision, update and upgrade nodes, as well as automated continuous monitoring to ensure maximum production uptime.

Private Clouds are Essential – Data sovereignty regulations and capacity limitations with public clouds make private clouds the best option for many use cases.

The Business

A major telecommunications operator in a large Asian country has more than more than 400 million subscribers. The operator offers fixed and wireless broadband voice and data, Wi-Fi hotspots, and a growing ecosystem of rich digital services, including applications for e-commerce, media, communications, payment processing, taxes, healthcare and more. It operates one of the world’s longest 100 Gbps submarine cable systems, stretching from Europe to Asia.

“The model-driven architecture that Mirantis has come up with has helped us save a lot of time and effort. We define our inventory in code and the inventory gets deployed automatically using CI/CD.”

— VP of Engineering

Challenges

When the parent company began heavily investing in the operator to become a telecommunications leader in their country, executives had a vision of leading a digital revolution. Specifically, they wanted to shape the country’s future by providing end-to-end digital solutions for businesses, institutions and households and seamlessly bridging the rural-urban divide. The operator had to contend with more established players in the market, which had been offering mobile services in the country for decades. Because the operator wanted to provide an offering that average citizens, even rural villagers, could afford, there would be very low average revenue per user, and the company needed to minimize operational costs to achieve profitability.

Being a new player in the telecommunications market, the operator was not hampered by legacy technology investments and wanted to start off using the latest best practices and innovations. To accelerate time to market for a new portfolio of digital services consumed at massive scale, the company decided to deploy an OpenStack private cloud for their software teams. The company was adopting a microservices-based culture and organizational structure and wanted to enable each software team to independently develop, deploy and scale their own offerings, instead of having to wait for a central IT team to provision or scale resources.

To accomplish this, the operator wanted to partner with an OpenStack vendor who had proven success with global telecommunications leaders and the expertise to quickly scale cloud resources for each app to support more than 100 million subscribers.

Solution

The company decided to evaluate Mirantis, based on its successful deployment of the world’s largest OpenStack cloud for one of the world’s biggest telecommunications companies, as well as Mirantis’ leadership within the OpenStack community as one of its top contributors of code. They commenced with advisory services, OpenStack training, and a proof-of-concept (PoC) deployment with dozens of nodes.

After the success of the PoC, the two companies set forth to build up the operator’s cloud infrastructure, first focusing on establishing a robust cloud foundation that could help drive innovation and provide key capabilities. By 2015, the operator began scaling its platform, introducing additional clouds in other regions, adding world-class capabilities, and enabling key products and initiatives.

Initial deployments were based on Mirantis OpenStack with Tungsten Fabric and Ceph storage, and the company has since then transitioned to Mirantis Cloud Platform (MCP), a flexible infrastructure platform that automates cloud updates and upgrades by following principles of Infrastructure as Code. Mirantis provided architectural and design services; deployment, upgrade, integration, workload onboarding and other engineering services; training and 24×7 support. By the time the operator was ready to launch in 2016, the operator had several clouds in production across multiple cities, spanning hundreds of nodes.

Results

After its public launch, the operator attracted 16 million subscribers in its first month, the fastest ramp-up by any mobile operator in the world. The company enrolled 100 million subscribers in only 170 days — or an average of 7 customers per second — making it the fastest adoption of any technology service in the world, surpassing Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype. Besides making voice calls completely free with no roaming charges, the operator also offered some of the lowest data rates in the world, costing about $2 per month with unlimited data, and free feature phones with a 3-year subscription. Today, the company has more than 400 million subscribers.

Launching Digital Services at Massive Scale

When the operator goes live with a digital service, it has the challenge of going live with millions of users. The operator currently offers anyone using their SIM card a full suite of digital services at no cost, including applications for TV, movies, music, magazines, payments, messaging, VoIP, file storage, retail point of sale, taxes, healthcare, and more, which all run on OpenStack private clouds.

To prepare for rapid consumption by millions of customers, the operator worked closely with Mirantis to minimize the time to deploy a new production cloud at scale. In 2015, it took the operator 55 days to deploy a new 100-node cloud, including racking, stacking and networking.

Since then, deployments have greatly accelerated. “Our automated pipelines can deploy a 100-node cloud in five days flat, which is a massive deal for a company that is adding bare metals to their infrastructure so fast,” said the VP of Engineering at the company. “It helps us utilize our investment and assets really well.”

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“The time it takes to deploy a cloud control plane for us is about 19 hours. It takes us two hours to deploy our compute rack, and it takes us three hours to deploy our storage rack. We really love it,” he added. “MCP has really been a game changer for us in automation.”

MCP automates the deployment, updates and upgrades of clouds, reducing manual work and errors. “The model-driven architecture that Mirantis has come up with has helped us save a lot of time and effort,” the VP of Engineering said. “We define our inventory in code and the inventory gets deployed automatically using CI/CD.” MCP also streamlines cloud management with its StackLight Operations Support System (OSS), which provides continuous monitoring of cloud infrastructure and application workloads.

In early 2016, Mirantis began transitioning cloud operations to the operator’s internal cloud team, who are now able to manage cloud deployment and operations on their own. Mirantis continues to assist the operator with architecture, other consulting services, and 24×7 enterprise support.

“We really value the partnership with Mirantis,” the VP of Engineering said. “Mirantis has trained us on using the concepts of GitOps, infra as code, automated deployments and the toolchains that come with the Mirantis product.”

The operator’s OpenStack cloud is one of the largest in the world. It includes eight application datacenters running 4,000 bare metal servers across three regions in the country, with roughly 100,000 CPU cores. Further expansion is already planned, and the operator expects to soon have 10,000 bare metal servers. Additionally, the operator has 13 network datacenters that carry network traffic across the country.

“We had to deploy private clouds when we were launching, because there were the government regulations. The Telecom Regulatory Authority mandates that any telecom company [in the country] has to store customer data inside the country,” the VP of Engineering. “None of the other cloud providers are big enough to host our workloads, so we made all this infrastructure ourselves, and we’re still growing.”

About 50 internal software teams consume the operator’s OpenStack cloud. These teams provision their own cloud resources and can rapidly deploy and scale their own offerings as needed. With MCP, developers have the flexibility to deploy the type of cloud resources they prefer, including VMs, containers or bare metal compute. The operator built a Kubernetes-as-a-Service platform on top of OpenStack to provide developers with a self-service portal where they could get a Kubernetes cluster with the click of a button.

“We don’t define how the microservices teams work, and that’s what you want in your organization. You don’t want to define standards for your teams, you want to let them innovate and figure out their own,” the VP of Engineering said. “Some teams want baremetal, some teams want Kubernetes, some teams want to use typical monolithic environments.”

Transforming Society

By offering free voice calls and text messaging throughout the country, unlimited data access at affordable rates, premium content and applications at no cost, to all citizens, the operator shook up the country’s telecom industry, forcing incumbent operators to slash prices and causing consolidation in the market. More importantly, the operator has also helped to disrupt the country’s society, by making communications and data more accessible and bridging the urban-rural digital divide.

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“We have transformed culture in our country. Our citizens were data starved a year ago, because data was too expensive for most people to afford,” the VP of Engineering said. By offering all citizens free access to data, the company is helping to expand citizens’ world view. This is especially true through the consumption of TV, a luxury that many citizens do not have in their homes. “Many citizens couldn’t afford TV and didn’t really understand the world outside our country’s borders,” the VP of Engineering said. Today, TV is one of the company’s most heavily consumed apps, with roughly 80 million monthly active users.

After the operator’s launch, the country suddenly transformed from a low consumer of mobile data to a world leader. “On average, our subscribers consume 12GB of data per month, which is one of the highest rates in the world,” the VP of Engineering said. “We have a huge role to play in making our country number one in terms of broadband data consumption.”

Besides bridging the country’s digital divide, the operator is also helping to alleviate poverty by partnering with government in an initiative to improve distribution of public benefits. By integrating free digital banking, free mobile payments, and biometric digital identities, the program aims to reduce corruption and ensure that social spending programs are benefiting their intended recipients. Currently, more than 300 million bank accounts have been linked to the program, which processes almost 2 billion mobile payments per month.

With such achievements, the operator has become an indispensable leader in the country’s digital revolution, as the country aspires to both improve the lives of its citizens and expand its influence in the world digital economy.

Challenge

  • Enable rapid deployment and scaling of digital services to more than 100 million customers
  • Provide a variety of self-service provisioning capabilities to independent software teams
  • Minimize cost of operations to offset low average revenue per user (ARPU)

Solution

  • Scalable, private cloud based on OpenStack deployed on thousands of physical servers
  • Mirantis automated deployment pipelines with seamless updates and upgrades
  • Mirantis cloud design, support and training services, with operations transferred to operator’s internal cloud team

Results

  • World’s fastest technology service adoption with 100 million customers in only 170 days
  • Ability to deploy 100-node cloud in only 24 hours after hardware preparation is complete
  • Self-service portal for independent software teams enables rapid provisioning of VM, container or baremetal compute resources

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